N St. Properties Linked to Jackie Kennedy Selling for $26.5 Million
Real Estate: Office-to-Residential Conversion at 2715 M St. NW
Realty Review: Top 6 Georgetown Real Estate Sales in the Last 5 Months
Georgetowner Realty Review: What Sold in December
Real Estate Listings: Splendid Homes of Former Ambassadors and Cabinet Secretaries
Real Estate Spotlight
Outerbridge Horsey: An Architect of Georgetown
Samantha Hungerford • May 3, 2012
The name Outerbridge Horsey sounds more like an honorific title than the personal name of a tall, red-headed Georgetown resident who is fond of his job, community, wife and two greyhounds. Yet its bearer, who is the seventh in his family to inherit his name, seems to think little of it, other than the fact that people find it easy to remember. Horsey’s is a well-known name throughout the neighborhood; he is an active and passionate member of the community and is the principal of a Georgetown-based architecture and design firm, Outerbridge Horsey Associates, PLLC.
The firm specializes mostly in residential additions remodeling around the D.C. area, although they do some institutional work. Horsey estimates that he has worked on 15 to 20 houses in Georgetown itself but his work is scattered around the east coast – his most recent project was the remodeling of a house in Nantucket.
Samantha: So what first drew you to architecture?
Outerbridge: I grew up abroad. I grew up in Japan, Italy, Rome, Prague, Czechoslovakia and Sicily. And so I think that laid the foundation. Then when I went to college, my first year of college, I was a classics, Greek and archaeology major. I’d been on archeological digs for a continuous two summers and enjoyed it tremendously; I studied Greek in high school. But when I got to college I found that archaeology in the classroom was not nearly as interesting as it was in the field and I fairly quickly, my first year in fact, migrated over to the architecture program called Designing the Environment at Penn, the University of Pennsylvania, and went on from there.
And then I came back here, I majored in design in the environment – it’s just sort of a mixture of landscaping and architecture, landscape design. And then came back here for a year, took some classes at Georgetown and applied to architecture schools and ended up back at Penn again for my master’s degree. So it’s worked out very well. But I have a feeling all that exposure to, especially in Italy, to beautiful buildings and ruins and even archaeology, sort of, was the foundation.
S: And why have you continued doing it?
O: Because I love it. I’ll never be rich, but that’s okay, I’m rich in loving what I do and I think that’s the most important thing. My wife, fortunately, is interested it and appreciates it and tolerates my love for it. I get up every day and I love to do what I do every day, most of it anyway. And it’s great, you know, there’s always something new. Every client, every site, every project, doing something new so it’s never dull. Not to say there aren’t some tedious times running a business and making sure the little details are attended to by the builders and all that, but the whole process is really pretty enjoyable from the beginning, meeting the client, to seeing the project through construction to finalizing the details and seeing the building emerge. So, it’s fun.
S: What has your favorite project been that you’ve worked on and why?
O: Well, the house in Nantucket is certainly the most memorable one…well, there have been several, actually. The house in Nantucket and the complete redo of a Watergate apartment. I’d never worked on the renovation of an apartment, I’d only worked on new apartments. The house in Nantucket was great because it’s a fairly tight regulatory review process […] so they start very early in providing parameters for new buildings throughout the island in Nantucket. It’s very fortunate that the entire island, I believe, is governed by the town council and all the building departments and so on and so forth – all their regulations apply all over the island.
They started in the 70s and they wrote this book called “Building with Nantucket in Mind,” which basically lays out all the dos and the don’ts and the cans and the can’ts, and it’s really quite helpful. But within that there’s a great deal of flexibility that you can work with, but that sort of gives you the vocabulary. Everything has to be natural, white shingled, and it all works, you can see why they did it.
Have you ever been to Nantucket? I’d never been before three years ago, but all the house sizes are different and there are certain parts of the island that are very dense, but there’s a sort of, not homogeneity, but, nothing jumps out at you, which is important. Other places you go, houses are very different, paint colors are very different, the materials are very different, the aesthetic style is very different, and it can be somewhat discordant. And Nantucket’s not like that. So that was interesting to work within those parameters and working with the Historic District Commission was interesting, it went pretty well, actually, surprisingly, and in the end they thought very highly of the design which I took as a compliment. […]
S: What was your vision for your firm when you first opened it, and have you lived up to that dream or has it changed?
O: I was trained as a modernist at Penn and at the time I came out there was very little modern architecture even in D.C. But the training I had, I guess you could call it a classical training in architecture, and we were both familiar with architectural design and the history of architecture. […] But I ended up, when I went to work in Philadelphia for a year and I came back here knowing I wanted to start my own firm and I worked for a couple of firms doing my apprenticeship for three years.
I think the vision I had was just designing beautiful buildings without any particular emphasis on style or period, design. Traditional architectural design tends to have a stylistic period that they sort of focus on, but I like almost all of them, all the architectural periods and styles, so I’m less concerned about being particular to any one. So designing in a variety of styles and designing some modern buildings has ended up what we’ve done and I’ve been very pleased with that. You know, I’d be nice to do a little bit more modern work and we actually are doing a little bit more now, which is nice. I think the vision is pretty much the same.
It’d be fun to design my own house some time, but I haven’t quite gotten there, I’m not sure that’ll happen. I think every architect wants to design their own house, some are lucky enough to do it, others aren’t.
S: And speaking of your house, you are a Georgetown resident. What do you like or dislike about the neighborhood?
O: I love the area. My wife has lived her whole life in Georgetown so that’s been important but my parents moved here in the early 70s and I was in high school at the time just going to college, so I didn’t really live here the whole time. I came back here for the summers and enjoyed it immensely but I didn’t really live here full time till the early 80s when I came back from architecture school. And I’ve always lived in Georgetown, my jobs have always been in Georgetown. When I worked for other firms, they were both located in Georgetown.
I like the river, I like the parks, I think it’s a pretty remarkable environment in that it offers something, a lot of diversity, to people of all ages. Children to teenagers to young professionals to older people. I think it’s the sense of community, village-like atmosphere. In those days there were a lot more stores that catered to the neighborhood than there are now and that was a nice aspect that has been lost, I think, which is too bad. But what we gained in exchange for that is more vitality in the commercial district, which I think is important, there were always doors shuttered in the old days. And that wasn’t a blight, but there’s a much more vibrant commercial district and that’s good for the community, good for the city, it brings people from the city into our neighborhood which is good too.
When we first were married my first house was up the street here, 31st and N, and our whole sort of outlook was towards the river, walking down there, and we moved five blocks about six years ago, we moved to the north to 32nd between Q and R, and our whole focus sort of changed. It’s now at the parks on the north end of Georgetown, plus we got two dogs so that kind of encouraged that interest in the parks.
S: You’re also a very active member of the Georgetown community.
O: I have been at times, it’s true.
S: And what compels you to speak up, so to say?
O: What compels me to get involved? I guess it’s a disposition, a personal disposition I have. It probably runs in my family to do something for one’s community or public service in some way even though I have my own firm I guess I’m just personally inclined to want to participate and want to help and give the necessary time.
S: What kinds of projects have you spoken up for in the past? You were just featured in the Georgetowner speaking about the Tudor Place and everything going on there.
O: That’s right, I’m trying to find what’s best for Tudor Place in the neighborhood. But I guess the early things that I was involved in, probably the most meaningful ones, were the Georgetown Ministry Center where I was involved for many years. I was president of the board for four years at the very early stages so that was very interesting, it was very much needed, it still is needed and they’re doing a fabulous job now. […]
And the other early initiative was Trees for Georgetown which I helped to start along with two other people, Flow Stone is still around and very involved with various things in the community and Ann Witherspoon who is now living in California. And the need at that time was that the District of Columbia had no money at all for their tree replacement program. Their funds were completely dry, the nursery was empty, and the tree maintenance division of the government was really down to a skeleton staff. And they had the whole city to deal with, so we started to raise money to plant trees and worked hard at it. We got contractors working in concert with the government and it was very successful, we raised enough money to plant empty tree boxes every year. […]
There are other things, I was on the Citizen’s Association Board for five years, so there was a period when I was very involved.
S: But not so much anymore?
O: I did get involved with another board downtown for five years which took a lot of my time but now I’m back focusing on my practice which needs me more than ever in these trying times. [gallery ids="100261,106959,106954,106968,106972,106949,106976,106980,106944,106964" nav="thumbs"]
Courting Design with Solis
Lauren Hodges •
The physical structure of the Washington Design Center demands attention and respect in the Capitol Hill landscape the same way a bright red couch would demand it in the middle of a neutral-toned living room. Large and imposing, the massive building hosts 50 showrooms of interior design overload. Make no mistake; this isn’t a visit to IKEA. No particleboard bookshelves loaded with 200 copies of the same cookbook can be found in these walls. The rooms are designed by the best interior decorators in the D.C. area with only the best resources.
Started nearly 30 years ago and formerly a piece of the Kennedy family’s property portfolio, the center is meant to encapsulate everything Washington designers and design-o-philes need for inspiration. Visitors can tour the rooms and choose items smorgasbord-style, or they can pinpoint their ideal aesthetic and corresponding dream designer in the center’s massive rolodex.
In 2002, the center established the designer “Hall of Fame” as part of its 20th anniversary celebration. The center’s committee chooses professionals who have made a significant impact on D.C. design to be immortalized in the growing list of names. Membership in the “Hall” comes with priceless perks such as collaboration with other designers on center projects, participation in outreach programs for the community and the chance to design the center’s ever-changing entrance lobby.
Every nine months or so, the center chooses a name from the “Hall” to bring a fresh face to the building’s entrance. Much like the front window displays at Barney’s New York, the finished product is a signature for the chosen designer, a hallmark of their creative vision, condensed into a single square space. Both an honor and a challenge, the task is not one to be taken lightly.
Currently showing off their signatures to entering visitors are Jose Solis Betancourt and Paul Morgan Sherrill of Solis Betancourt & Sherrill. Betancourt is the founder of Solis Betancourt, Inc. and Sherrill, his partner, joined the company in 1992. With a portfolio boasting such names as Architectural Digest, House & Garden, House Beautiful, Southern Accents, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine and HGTV, the pair has plenty of experience and skill to pull off a perfectly designed room. The challenge was combining both of their visions—modern yet accessible—into a welcoming and current presentation.
“Lobbies can be so cold sometimes,” remarked Betancourt. “We really wanted to make this warm and inviting.”
“The lighting can get harsh in building lobbies,” agreed Sherrill. “With all the people coming through, it was important that we created a relatable environment.”
The two men might share a basic direction in design, but their beginnings are quite different. Betancourt grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, immediately latching onto art and spending his childhood days drawing and painting. His professional life pulled him between New York and D.C. several times before finally landing him here for good. Starting at the architecture program at Cornell University, he left New York in 1990 to work at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in D.C., but later returned to New York for a position at The Saladino Group. “I still go back and forth quite a lot,” he says. “There are many more resources, design-wise, in New York. But I’m learning how to find my way around the D.C. design community a lot better, especially in Georgetown.”
Merrill, a product of the South, grew up with artistic grandparents, who he says served as his inspiration to study art. He joined the design program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and graduated with a degree in art before moving to D.C. in 1992 to work with Betancourt. Also familiar with the resources in other cities like New York, Merrill is able to see the developing trends in Washington when compared to surrounding communities. “It’s becoming a lot more contemporary in D.C. lately,” he says. “And this is just compared to 20 years ago.”
Merrill and Betancourt applied that taste for modern furnishings when beginning their lobby project. The first thing Merrill says he noticed was the shape of the room, which apparently lent itself to a very structured design. “They’ve been doing this Hall of Fame designer showcase in the lobby for a few years now, I guess. And I always noticed that a number of the designers did a rigid design, focused mostly on architecture. I don’t necessarily agree with that.”
They decided to give the room a hint of drama, with loud, dynamic textures, sweeping, swagging draperies and a sensual color palette that felt very “now.”
“When you first enter the space, there is this existing niche in the wall,” says Merrill. “We painted that a rich mahogany color to give it that strong, important axis.”
Next, they focused on the somewhat intimidating height of the room. “It’s two stories high,” he says. “We did some really elegant draping to add drama and placed some lighter elements in front of it so you can see the silhouettes.”
“What we really wanted was a strong focal point,” says Betancourt. “And we created that by being very purposeful with our colors.”
Specifically, they utilized rich, saturated earth tones. The camels mixed with the dark wood shades simultaneously convey strength and elegance, giving the room a double dynamic: passionate yet logical, irresistible and smart, warm and powerful. The chosen chandelier is also a perfect example of this dual accomplishment, being both sculptural and classic.
Also arranged with precision and purpose is the furniture. “We wanted to express symmetry and balance, so we put the sofa at a diagonal angle,” says Betancourt. “It’s almost a circular arrangement so that breaks up the rigid feel of the room.”
“The rugs are important to that feel, too,” says Merrill. “We layered some of them on top of each other and it looks really interesting.”
As they finished up their project, Merrill and Betancourt were able to enjoy a practice reaction from the design center employees before the room was presented to the public. “I think they all really enjoyed it,” says Betancourt. “They all said that they found the drama of the draperies and color palette very pleasing to the eye. But what was most satisfying to hear was that they felt they could relate to the room and the pieces in it.”
“That’s what we were going for,” says Merrill. “Something graphic but sophisticated, something that straddled the line between modern and elegant. That balance is so important to respect, especially when dealing with public spaces.”
[gallery ids="100361,110102,110118,110107,110115,110112" nav="thumbs"]
Oehme van Sweden, Designing the Cultural Landscape
Lauren Hodges •
Where would our social calendars be without weather dates? A little thing like a history-making-earthquake-and-hurricane combination wasn’t about to shake up D.C. schedules…at least not too much. When the ground shook the district, Virginia and Maryland in August right before Hurricane Irene attacked the East Coast, several things had to be rescheduled, including the dedication of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial on the National Mall. But in true Washingtonian fashion, the city simply shrugged, sent workers to deal with the boo-boos on the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral, and carried on with plans to dedicate the new civil rights site.
The long-awaited event was originally planned for Aug. 28, which was the 48th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. President Obama was scheduled to speak and the country was eager to see the finished product – a massive undertaking of fundraising and design nearly three decades in the making.
Luckily, as the hurricane flooded the streets and toppled trees on that crucial date, another vital anniversary was waiting around the corner as a backup date for the dedication. Oct. 16 marked the Million Man March, held in 1995 on the National Mall to gather the country’s black men in a show of collective voice. Since the memorial is the first one on the mall representing someone of color, choosing a Civil Rights-specific date was crucial.
Standing proudly at the ceremony on Oct. 16 was landscape architect Sheila Brady. A principal at Oehme van Sweden, Brady was a key element in choosing the oaks, pines, magnolias and cherries that surround the newly-dedicated monument. Though many projects are clamoring for the mark of an Oehme van Sweden architect, Brady says she’s the lucky one.
“It’s been a great honor,” she says. “It’s about five years now that we’ve been working on it. The crowd is so inspired and thrilled.” When ROMA, a design group based out of San Francisco, won the competition for the MLK Memorial site, Oehme van Sweden was asked to implement the ideas for the landscape. Brady came on as a director during the development stage. “So we took ROMA’s ideas and visions, respected and honored them, and designed a plan that was fitting for the memorial,” says Brady.
The 30-foot-tall granite statue of Dr. King is imposing and serious. Arms crossed and holding a purposeful look on his face, MLK appears to be waiting for the next step. Those standing before it instantly have a sense of duty: to continue working toward total equality, justice and peace. Just in case the mission isn’t clear enough, King’s most famous quotes are inscribed around him. “There’s so much emotion and honor there and it’s inspiring,” says Brady. “The rest of the mall structures are presidents and war memorials so this is a whole new message for people who visit D.C.”
Though born in New York, Brady has been a Washingtonian for most of her life, tapped well into the socially-conscious heartbeat of the capitol city. Her family set up house inside the beltway in Bethesda when she was 13. Interested in art and design early on in her life, Brady attended and graduated from George Washington University and the Corcoran School of Art and Design. Having developed an interest in traditional architecture, she started to attend exhibits and showcases. That was how she found the work of Dan Kiley. “I was fascinated with this group of plants that he assembled,” she says. “That was the first time I heard the term ‘landscape architect.’” That was the day the tide turned on Brady’s future. “Right there, I was sold. I went into landscaping and I haven’t looked back since.” With her new thirst for natural design, Brady went on to Harvard for a masters in design and eventually found her way to Oehme van Sweden.
At the time, the well-respected D.C. firm had been around for 15 years, founded by Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden. For anyone familiar with the art of landscape design, both men are well-known as pioneers of the “New American Garden” style of landscape architecture. Rather than confining the foliage to structured shapes and precise spots, the “New American Garden” is meant to showcase the natural form of the plant, allowing it to grow slightly wild and choose its own path. But rather than acting as an antithesis to more orderly designs, the look is meant to act as a compliment; soft edges against the hard.
Now, after 25 years with the firm and securing a spot as a design principal, Brady has an impressive portfolio of her own. But despite the pedigree, she’s hard-pressed to come up with any favorites in her distinguished career.
“They’ve all been such great projects, from start to finish,” she says. After a few moments of reflection, she admits that the 40-acre botanical garden in Roth, New York was a priceless lesson in serenity and public service for her. “We had this chance to educate the public on literally thousands of different plants,” she says. “That was really special for me.” She’s also partial to memorials, like the MLK project and the World War II structure, another collaboration with ROMA. “You’re on this sacred ground of the monument’s core,” she says. “It’s a reminder that you’re working in orchestration with memory. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
As for the MLK memorial, she says the selected trees and plants were chosen to create a lasting, year-round impact. For instance: “the American Elm variety we chose is called the Princeton Elm and it’s resistant to Dutch Elm disease,” she says. “So that’s kind of symbolic of the memorial’s message. And the ground plane is this wonderful evergreen. So it’s going to be beautiful and strong in all types of weather and conditions.” Overall, the memorial’s green design was concocted to inspire reactions from generations to come. Brady says the plants, the statue and the general design of the memorial are all a testament to things in life that simply won’t be shaken by adversity. “It’s made to endure millions of visitors. It all works together to become a unified, beautiful site.” [gallery ids="100355,110047" nav="thumbs"]
Ari Post • February 8, 2012
Founded in 2010, R2L:Architects is among the area’s newest architectural firms. And while the firm is a surefire up-and-comer, its founders have a wide array of experience in the Washington area. Architects and principals Sacha Rosen, Tom Lenar and Lee Rubenstein sat down with the paper to discuss the nature of architecture in Washington, the challenges of historic preservation, hidden architectural gems of our city, and much more.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
SR: A variety, with a current focus on apartment buildings. 30 units at 14th and Florida NW, 250 units in Mount Vernon Triangle, 280 units in Penn Quarter. And some smaller projects: a townhouse conversion to six units on North Capitol Street, an adaptive reuse of a historic landmark office building across from the Verizon Center and a 21-unit building on Capitol Hill. A 200-unit project in Ballston is in the works.
TL: We’ve also done some corporate interiors projects that were recently completed—including one for Public Properties, who just moved in to Georgetown. We’ve recently been in discussions with some local restaurants and a new office building downtown may be on the horizon.
When you work with a client, how do you merge with their aesthetic? Do you ever try to shift their taste in your direction?
SR: Yes, when they have bad taste. It’s sort of a civic duty sometimes. But we don’t have a singular vision of the world and we work hard to realize the client’s vision – after all, it’s their money, their home or business, and they usually have to live with the final product. It’s the quality of the overall project that matters most to us, rather than the specific style. If the final product is pleasing to the client, the architect and the public, then it’s probably a success.
LR: Successful designs often result from a collaborative process, rather than a predetermined aesthetic agenda. Most clients do have some sort of general concept in mind at the outset, but they’re also seeking our input, whether it’s on aesthetics and materials, or on more pragmatic issues of space allocation and site use. It’s not always a matter of shifting tastes, but vetting possibilities with the client and then implementing the ones that represent the right fit.
Do you approach the design process differently between large buildings and smaller projects, like a house or interior renovation? Or is the process effectively the same?
LR: The smallest of design efforts, such as a residential interior renovation, may only involve a handful of people: the owner, the contractor and a handful of installers. Larger buildings in urban settings tend to involve an extensive cast of characters- community groups, local review boards, neighboring property owners, specialty consultants and the like. In one case you’re working with a string quartet. In the other, you’re conducting a full orchestra.
SR: Larger projects evolve more over the longer duration of the design process. That gives you the opportunity to try some different ideas and pick the best ones. Smaller projects require you to make the major decisions quickly.
TL: It’s more by the client’s needs and their relationship with the project than by the project’s size. We designed an addition to one single family home for a client who was very objective – they had lived there for over 20 years, were looking to move on and needed to maximize the home’s value. On another residential addition, the client was concerned more about how livable the home was for their family. With some more space, they could see themselves living there forever and every decision was very personal to them because of the permanence of their relationship with their home.
On larger projects, clients differ on an organizational level. We have some great relationships with developers who have relatively small offices. They often come to us with a project site and ask us to envision what it could be. It’s fantastic. We get to be involved in just about every aspect of the project. The client we’re working with on 450 K Street develops, owns and manages a large residential portfolio. They bring a lot of sophistication to the table. They’re very organized, they continuously update their market research and study their competition, and they have a strategy for competing with them. The design process is efficient since most of the development program is already in place, and we can spend that much more time focusing on designing the building.
Do you focus much on sustainable and environmentally friendly design?
LR: A large residential building in an urban setting represents a significant use and concentration of resources. But if done correctly, in concert with sound regional planning, it can also lead to increased efficiencies that benefit the environment in the long run – fewer cars on the roads each day, fewer individual lawns to fertilize and mow, less development of undisturbed greenfield sites. It all adds up… Sustainability is now a focus of the broader design and construction industry, whether driven by the demands of a resource-conscious market, the desires of eco-savvy clients, or the requirements of new green building regulations adopted by local jurisdictions.
SR: Designing sustainably is like designing to accommodate gravity – there’s no alternative, is there? That’s something that makes me proud of our profession… architects and the building industry as a whole have made great strides in the past few years towards a much more environmentally sensitive approach to everything we do. Let’s hope it pays off before the National Mall floods.
TL: Essentially, sustainable design is nothing more than good, responsible design. In the big picture we’re addressing the issues which affect personal health, environmental health and resource efficiency. What’s been great to see is that within just the past five years, everyone has developed a more sophisticated understanding of what makes a building sustainable. It wasn’t long ago that perceptions were that a building had to have solar panels or a green roof to be considered “green.” A lot of our efforts are in optimizing technical things that improve air quality and increase energy efficiency but are otherwise unseen by most people. We still like solar panels and green roofs, too.
You tend to specialize in working in historic contexts. What kinds of projects are you doing?
SR: We’re doing an adaptive reuse of a 1913 landmark office building in Penn Quarter – retail on the ground and basement levels and some unique “micro-loft” apartment units on the upper floors. Our design for a 30-unit apartment house on 14th Street, which is quite contemporary in character, was unanimously approved as appropriate to the Greater U Street Historic District by the Historic Preservation Review Board. We’re working now on a 250-unit apartment house in a different historic district and a major addition to a historic landmark downtown.
Tell me about how you became interested in working with historic sites and preservation.
TL: Working with historic sites and neighborhoods is inevitable if you do any significant amount of work in the District. One of the great things about old buildings—historically significant or not—is that a lot of them were built to be quite durable and often can be adapted to modern uses, giving them new life. For example, our office is in a building that’s more than 200 years old. Our understanding is that the ground floor has always been used as a commercial space in some way and we have the opportunity to continue that tradition.
SR: My first preservation project was the Presidential Palace in the Republic of Malta, built in 1530 by the Knights of St. John – including the design of a free-standing steel-and-glass elevator in a stone courtyard, the installation of internet wiring in the Parliamentary Council Chamber and replacement of petroleum-based roofing materials with an ancient clay system much more suited to the intense sunshine. That was a great education in both the theory and practice of preservation.
How does historical and cultural analysis of historic preservations work?
SR: I studied historiography in grad school – a critical approach to the way we perceive and record the passage of time. In that context, the preservation of historic buildings, districts and artifacts reveals a lot about our society and culture. How do we decide what’s worth saving? How does contemporary design acknowledge our own cultural milieu? And how will our work today be perceived and valued in the future?
In designing a house what do you enjoy the most? What do you have to struggle with other than financial constraints?
TL: Thinking about how people use the buildings we design, the communities that they are a part of and how they fit in to the city. Whether it’s where someone lives, works, or plays, the design process leads us to interact with people who cause us to re-evaluate our understanding of how places are used and evolve our theories on how we can help enhance people’s lives through better design.
LR: Working to understand the client, the site and the design issues at hand so that what we propose is at once effective and interesting. One of the more enjoyable things about residential design is getting to step back and think about how people live their lives- working, relaxing, cooking, exercising, sleeping, commuting, entertaining, etc. Should the house be geared to satisfy conventional expectations, or should it be retooled to offer something unique? The answer can vary from project to project.
SR: Balancing personal expression with resale value. On the one hand, a house can be a physical manifestation of an individual or a family character; on the other hand, it can express the universal principles of human life. There’s joy in reconciling the two in the design of a home … but not when the result is something bland enough to be acceptable to anyone.
What’s the fastest turn around, in designing from scratch with a house, from drawings to the client moving in?
SR: We’ve never been asked that by a client. If you’re in a hurry, there’s probably a house out there that you can modify quickly to suit your needs. Most people who go to the effort of commissioning a home from a good architect are willing to give the process the time it needs. A longer, more careful design phase leads to a more efficient, cost-effective and often faster construction phase, and a more satisfying result.
Name the five best buildings in the DC area you did not design.
LR: How about five of the more interesting buildings that you might not have visited, but warrant a look, regardless of your aesthetic preferences?
1. The atrium between the Smithsonian Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery
2. The Embassy of Finland on Massachusetts Avenue
3. The main reading room at the Library of Congress
4. The NOAA Satellite Facility in Suitland
5. The East Portico Columns at the National Arboretum
Where did you study, and who has influenced you as an architect?
LR: We have varying backgrounds. Tom studied business management at Penn State University before earning his Master’s in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. Sacha was a graduate fellow in American History at the University of Michigan—and a carpenter—before his M. Arch. from the University of Oklahoma. I also have a Master’s in architecture from University of Pennsylvania. Prior to that, I studied art history at Hamilton College.
SR: Modern masters like Kahn and Wright; the English high-tech school of Grimshaw and Rodgers; contemporary Dutch radicals; and the rich tradition of local Washington architecture.
TL: I find it difficult to credit anyone in particular for influencing my thoughts about architecture. I draw a lot from modernism—we all do, actually. But we’re also very critical and understand that this movement created some problems, notably an aesthetic that is sometimes cold and polarizing and an urban planning approach that, while progressive in its day, is now seen as isolationist. I like to study those kinds of architectural problems, and find creative ways to solve them for how we live today and how we will live in the future. Most of what we know comes through observing how people interact with the built world, and every generation is different in how they do that. Although we have a lot of historic buildings here in Georgetown that date back to the 1700’s—like the one where we have our office—these buildings, which may seem permanent in some ways, are part of a living thing that is always changing and evolving. How we keep these buildings relevant is an important question to ask ourselves.